The Köln-Frechen–Benzelrather Eisenbahn (KFBE) was only able to enjoy its attractive electric trainsets locally known as „Sambawagen“ for about 15 years before the KFBE passenger service was integrated into the Cologne tram and light rail network in 1969 – today line 7 is operating here using low-floor tramways. In 1970, 8 motorcars and 7 driving trailers of the „Sambawagen“ were taken over by Austrian regional train operator Stern & Hafferl in order to substantially modernize its Linzer Lokalbahn AG (LILO) line. Refurbishing all trainsets and adjusting them to the Austrian operating conditions was done in Stern&Hafferl’s own workshops and took about 10 years (1972-1983). Until 2000 the “Kölner” as they were referred to locally, formed the backbone of the LILO operation – without these elegant and comfortable vehicles survival of this important local railway line would have under serious doubts.
Once new dual-voltage EMUs arrived, five Westwaggon trainset were taken out of service and and most of them scrapped. In 2000, the trainsets no. 22.133/22.233 (ex KFBE 1288/2289) and no. 22.136/22.236 (ex KFBE 1290/2290) were transferred to Stern&Hafferl‘s Lambach – Vorchdorf-Eggenberg local line, where they are still in service today in school transport. Motor car ET 22.137 (ex KFBE 1289), equipped with a second driver’s cab in 1983 similar to some of the original KFBE vehicles, remained with the Linzer Lokalbahn as a working railcar and is used on their DC lines, e.g. for de-icing the catenary.
In 2023/24 the “Sambawagen” from Cologne will have been in railway service for 70 years – their replacement by modern TramTrains from a German-Austrian joint order is planned for 2025/26. Let’s hope that one of the „Sambawagen“ will survive and return to its home town Cologne, although it’s worth mentioning no. 1019 (similar to ET 22.137) is already preserved at Tram Museum Thielenbruch in Köln.